What do eggs have to do with cultural diversity?
I’m working with a global organisation, supporting with internal comms for the HR Services function. Every month one of the teams I’m part of begin their Zoom meetings with a random question found on Google. My first meeting with them opened with the egg question. It was brilliant fun. Not only do these random questions provide a great ice breaker, get everyone laughing and raise energy levels, they actually highlight real differences in culture. So while we began by talking about how we like our eggs, we actually found out lots of other things we didn’t know about each other. And, in case you’re wondering, my answer was “any way as long as they’re chocolate!”
21 May is World Day for Cultural Diversity and Dialogue and Development
The serious matter of culture and diversity at work is considered this month by guest blogger Ian Luxford. Having worked closely with Ian for various clients, including the (proud moment!) IoIC award-winning engagement project at Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group, I couldn’t think of anyone better placed to share their thinking on this important topic.
Cultural Diversity: Lots to do with work. Lots of work to do.
Sitting in the “United” Kingdom in 2019, a place more dramatically divided than it has been for centuries, it may be a good moment to remember the benefits of difference.
Cultural diversity is a subject laden with values and opinions. One of the few things I feel I can state to be an objective truth is that there are many people in the world and different people see things in (often very) different ways.
Diversity is about people’s individualities and acknowledging them is key to making it work (Donatus Amaran, 2007).
We can work with differences and make something good out of them, we can try and ignore them, or we can let them be a problem. In the workplace, it’s surely only worth considering the first option.
Gillian Martin (2014) notes that “The impacts of cultural diversity in the workplace can be both favorable and unfavorable,” the unfavourable ones including time and resource given over to managing conflict between people who see things very differently, and the favourable including the strength of the knowledge base created by “a variety of cultural experiences.”
To try and walk away from the benefits of diversity, believing it is safer to avoid conflict is to try and turn back a tide which is not only inevitable, but also hugely positive.
Picture: Learning Together, The Open University
Powerful lessons learned
By its nature, workplace diversity is complex. It can’t be reduced to a few simple rules. There are though some powerful lessons we have learned from working with organisations seeking to get this right:
- Put emotional intelligence first – this is not just the key to cultural diversity; it makes for more productive workplaces.
- Be open about unconscious bias – this follows on from emotional intelligence – pretending there is no unconscious bias doesn’t help us; we need to get on with it.
- Drive awareness – it’s important not to be deflected by accusations of political correctness and the people who say they “already respect others” – those with open minds always want to understand more.
- Make it relevant – what diversity looks like depends on where you are and what you start with. A “global” approach never resonates everywhere without adaptation.
We once gave a client an “Is it OK?” library of different situations which people might find themselves in, where an understanding of diversity would be useful. All the situations were real ones aimed at that particular organisation – it was extensively used because it spoke about diversity in terms that were relevant to what they did every day.
“Most workplaces are made up of diverse cultures, so organizations need to learn how to adapt to be successful,” says Barbara Mazur (2010). Organisations that don’t “need” to be more diverse are arguably under a greater threat in an increasingly global knowledge economy.
Amaram, D. I. (2007). Cultural Diversity: Implications For Workplace Management. Journal of Diversity Management (JDM), 2(4), 1-6.
Martin, G. C. (2014). The Effects Of Cultural Diversity In The Workplace. Journal of Diversity Management (JDM), 9(2), 89-92.
Mazur, B. (2010), “Cultural diversity in organisational theory and practice”, Journal of Intercultural Management, Vol. 2 No. 2, pp. 5-15.
Ian Luxford has been practising in and studying workplace learning since 1988. He is part of The Motivation Agency, a business that exists to help organisations achieve great results through colleague engagement. We work at all levels of a business, from the top strategists to the front line and we have expertise in all stages of the employment lifecycle.
We blend our specialisms in communication, learning and development, measurement and reward and recognition to deliver the best solution for your business challenges. Our specialists have worked extensively across both the public and private sectors in a wide variety of industries.